You Know You’re Not in California Anymore . . .

Jeff and I always brought our own bags to the grocery store even though it wasn’t mandated or even strongly recommended. We just did it because we didn’t need all those bags and didn’t want to have to worry about recycling unnecessary bags. After I went to take care of my dad in California, and the state outlawed single use plastic bags, there was no problem. I continued bringing my own bags. Once or twice I made an unexpected stop, and so went ahead and bought the multi-use bags that were available under the new law. These bags were said to be so much better because they were supposed to be able to be used 300 times. Um, no. I think I got about three uses out of them before they were rendered unusable.

Even worse, people on food stamps and other programs did not have to pay for those bags, so they used those heavy multi-use bags with the same disregard they did the old cheap ones, which helped the environment not at all since the new bags have a much heavier environmental impact than the original thin bags. Also people who used to use the single-use grocery bags for trash liners and such, now have to buy them, which does little to reduce plastic bag waste. (Studies also shown that since the ban, people buy more and thicker trash bags than they did before the ban.) Moreover, the cotton or polyester bags that people use instead need to be used 131 times before they break even in an environmental sense, and those bags — especially the polyester ones — don’t last that long. And you still need plastic for things like meat, because meat often leaks, and soiled bags can cause illness. Most confusing to me is that paper bags are given free if people want them, but the idea of cutting down trees just so people have things to carry their groceries in seems absurd (and wasteful) to me.

But that’s not really the point of this discourse. I was just reminded of the plastic-bag controversy when I went to a local store the other day, plopped the bags I was reusing on the counter, and told the cashier, “I brought my own bags.” He looked at me blankly, then threw them away. “I brought those bags to reuse,” I told him. “That’s what ‘I brought my own bags’ meant.” The kid still didn’t get it. He put a couple of my items in a new bag, and when I told him I didn’t want a bag, he started to throw away that unused bag, too. I said, “If you’re going to just throw it away, it defeats the purpose of not using a bag, so I’ll take it.” Another blank stare.

Yep. Not in California anymore. As ill-conceived as the California ruling is, it’s still a good idea for people to be more cognizant of excess plastic bag use. Some people are aware of the necessity of reusing bags or bringing their own, they just don’t do it. One older woman told me her grown daughter always brought her own bags to stores, but her daughter only had to shop for one person, and she had to shop for a family. I told her it was just as easy to bring ten bags as one, and she nodded, but the look she gave me was as blank as the one the kid had given me.

Colorado still allows single-use bags, which is nice for me — if I need wastepaper basket liners, I let the grocery stores put my groceries in their bags. That way I don’t have to buy any. Still, if it ever got to that point, I’d find a way since many stores are exempt from the ban, but I hope I don’t have to worry about it.

Legislation is never an answer. Being aware of the impact of one’s actions is. Not that I’m preaching. I just found these examples of not being in California anymore rather illuminating. Actually, I’m not really even in Colorado anymore, at least not when it comes to bag use. Stores on the front range (Denver, Colorado Springs, etc) and stores on the western slope (Grand Junction, Montrose, etc) credit people for using their own bags (it used to be five cents a bag), so that cashiers were at least cognizant of the idea of reuse.

Eventually, I’ll get people around here used to the idea that I don’t waste plastic bags. Already one or two cashiers automatically hand me my items. But I have yet to see anyone else bring their own bags.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.